The Fear Trials

'Hello. My name is Shal. I’m ten years old, and I need to tell this before I either die, or curl up in a ball and never move again.'


16. 16


It was the morning. A bell was ringing somewhere. I groaned, trying to wave it off, but it persisted. It sounded like an alarm. What was happening? Some kind of drill? Then hands were dragging me to my feet, and hurrying me somewhere.

Groggily, I blinked and a red light flashed before my eyes. Overhead, the bell kept ringing, an alarm blaring somewhere, and crackled voices shouting. I managed to wake enough to realize that I was being hurried along by Talia. She shoved a bag at me, and I slung it over my shoulder. We were traveling in a pack, all of us. All out at once. What the-

“Where are we going?” I demanded. “What’s happening?”

“Lilli shut down all the security systems,” Sim said from my right. “We’re making a run for it! Like we planned.”

I nearly stopped, practically tripping over my own feet. “What?” I know I had said it was time. But how had this happened?!

Lilli pulled up next to me. “Used the cube. Set the door’s open times for two hours earlier than usual, with some of the cube’s extensions, plus a screwdriver that Mar stole from the warehouse Trial…  C’mon, Shal. We need to get out of here now!”

About half of that made sense, but I wasn’t about to ask questions. I followed, my mind still reeling in disbelief.

We kept going. The bell was louder now, and the entire hallway was bathed in red flashing lights. This was a full lockdown- and we had to get out of here before any disasters happened.

We ran through the halls, following Lilli and Ala blindly. We were about halfway towards the Trial rooms when Ala suddenly pulled up. “Star! We have to get Star. She’s still in the hospital!”

Without any more warning, she turned and began bolting for the hospital. Startled, we followed.

There was a single guard outside the hallway. He saw us, and his eyes widened. He went to shout, reaching for his gun, but he never got the chance. Jess and Sim bowled into him, knocking him over and kicking him mercilessly. Finally, Sim grabbed the gun and pointed it at him. “Stay down!”

Jess waved over her shoulder. “Go. We’ll hold him for now!”

The rest of us ran into the room.

Star was where we’d left her, lying on the bed. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing softly.

We stopped, as Ala approached. She hesitated, and then pressed her hand against the monitor at Star’s side. The wires retracted, the straps unlocking. Ala lifted Star, and turned to the rest of us, giving a single nod. The message was clear. Time to go.

We bolted out to where Sim and Jess were fighting over who got to hold the gun. Without a word, Talia snatched it from Sim, and followed Ala, ignoring the protests of the two of them. Lilli paused beside the guard to grab a small speaker, and something else- a small capsule. I had no idea what it was, but Lilli pocketed it and ran to join us.

We began to go through metal hallways, in a section of the building I’d never seen before.

We reached a large metal door, with a complicated looking array of numbers and letters. Some kind of code? We all stepped out of the way to let Lilli through. This was her area of expertise, after all.

She frowned to herself, and then slowly pressed something against the door. I got my first good look at the core cube. A little box of metal, sparking with electricity, and glowing slightly in the darkness. Lilli also took out a screwdriver, and jammed it into what looked like a keyhole. She pressed the cube against it, and a small burst of electricity shot down and into the hole. There was silence for a second, and then the door shuddered, swinging open into…

Into the Fear Trials.

I stared in disbelief. I recognized it instantly. The wooden hallways. The doors. The Trial where I’d found Becca.

“What the…” I froze, as did everybody else.

Jess was the first to speak. “Shal… you were right.” There was respect and possibly awe in her eyes. The rest just looked frightened.

“Come on guys!” Ala snapped. “We need to hurry. Shal, let’s find Becca, and get out of here!”

We ran through the hallways. I did my best not to look to either side, trying not to think of all the horrible times I had been sent into this nightmare of a Trial. Now that this was real, what would happen if we ran into a Fearling?

“Shal, do you know which way to go?” Ala asked.

I nodded urgently, feeling along the doors. Had it been the third or the fourth that was safe? I couldn’t remember. I grabbed at one and yanked it open.

Too late, Lilli reached out to stop me. Behind the door was a hissing fearling.

I backed up, eyes wide. For a moment it studied us. And then it began to stalk forwards.

“Ala…” I whispered. Behind me, Zi let out a little whimper, pressing herself against the wall.

Talia stepped forwards, shielding us. The fearling lunged at her. My heart leapt into my throat, but Talia skipped to the side, letting it skitter past. She then jumped onto it from the back. It thrashed, but she held on tight, letting out a horrible shrieking sound. I stared in disbelief. She was riding a fearling. It was generally agreed that attacking one in the Trials would be suicide. But here she was.

Suddenly, it retracted its legs and fell, rolling over. Talia let out a yelp as the legs extended again, leaving her beneath. It growled at her, and then locked its teeth onto her arm, shaking back and forth with animal fury.

Red blood sprayed across the walls, and Talia screamed. I could only stare. This wasn’t a Trial. This was real. Real, and Talia was hurt. She was going to get killed, and we’d only just started, and we weren’t going to make it-

    I spun to look. Lilli was standing there, holding out the core cube. It sparked in her hands, and she stalked forwards. The fearling stared at her in what might have been disbelief, probably wondering if she had a death wish.

“Get off her, you bastard, or I’m going to fry you into a hollow little crisp,” Lilli growled.

The Fearling dropped Talia’s arm. I tried not to look at the gashes its teeth had left, blood already soaking through her grey sleeves and staining the ground beneath her. Lilli took another step forwards, and it hissed warningly.

“Fine. That’s how you want to do this?” she snapped. “Fine. Let’s play.” She took another step forwards, and held up the cube. The fearling’s eyes followed it. Still holding it out, Lilli crouched, and picked something up off the floor. The gun that Talia had dropped.

“We’re out of here,” Lilli whispered. “And you’re not going to stop us.”

She lifted the gun, and shot. The sound echoed off the walls, and smoke rose, for a moment obscuring the two of them. When it cleared, the Fearling had slumped to the side, eyes flickering vaguely. Lilli dropped the gun, and ran to Talia’s side, followed by the rest of us.

“That was so stupid,” Lilli was saying as we reached her. “You should know better than to take on a fearling on your own.” She was obviously worried, because she was speaking faster and faster as she did her best to wrap up Talia’s bleeding arm. “I mean there were all of us here and we outnumbered it and we could have taken it if you hadn’t gone and been a self sacrificing idiot who just kind of jumped into danger without thinking-”

“Lilli…” Talia laughed slightly. “I get it. We need to hurry.”

Zi went to help her up, face a bit green from the blood, but Talia waved her away, hauling herself to her feet. “Let’s go.”

We kept moving through the Trial. I was more careful this time. I just had to think of it as a Fear Trial. Just another Trial. I listened at doors, and there were no more incidents with fearlings. We made it into the mirror room.

I felt along the wall, until I found the familiar space where I could slip through. I took a deep breath and then went in. I heard several gasps from the other side as the others began to follow me through.

But I didn’t see any of that. All I could see was the chair in the center of the room. The chair where Becca had been tied.

There was still someone tied there. But that someone wasn’t Becca.

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